Bakong

A great dawn alternative

No pic at the moment -- Sorry!

What we say: 4 stars

The results of the painstaking reconstruction of the Bakong are impressive, but few tourists make it here due to its location 14 km from Siem Reap, off the main road to Phnom Penh.

Those who do come are rewarded with sweeping views, a stunning temple complex and a peaceful atmosphere away from the photo-hungry crowds.

Before its reconstruction, little remained of Bakong aside from a pile of rubble atop a small hill. Initial clearing work didn't commence until 1936 and the eventual reconstruction under the direction of Maurice Glaize (the conservator of Angkor from 1937 to 1945) took around seven years to complete.

Consecrated in 881 AD during the reign of King Indravarman I, the construction of the Bakong is believed to have been initiated by Indravarman's predecessor, Jayavarman III and became the state temple of Hariharalaya (modern-day Roulos). The layout of the site closely follows the principles of modelling Mount Meru with the moat surrounding the inner sanctum of five levels, with 10 small temples surrounding a tiered tower whose spire resembles the turreted, curved points of Angkor Wat. From the apex of the site, the model plan is quite obvious.

Potted plants and flowering bushes line the path that leads over the moat and into the temple complex. The grounds within the moat include a collection of smaller buildings in variable states of repair and the view from the northeast corner takes in the whole complex pretty well. When you climb each of the five levels, make the time to walk all the way around before continuing up to the next level. Note the little elephants on each corner — even the harness details are still visible on some. On the fourth level, be sure to walk around to the south side where a fine fragment of bas relief remains, illustrating apsaras fighting a losing battle.

When you reach the top level, turn and look back to the east for a tremendous view that illustrates the plan of the complex very well. To the west side we're told you can see Angkor Wat, but we couldn't — perhaps with binoculars it's possible. Exit the temple to the west, going straight down, and you'll stumble upon the remains of Nandi, Shiva's favourite bull.

After scaling the temple, be sure to stroll over to neighbouring Bakong pagoda. A comprehensive renovation of this active Buddhist temple was recently completed, and the transformation is quite remarkable. The murals inside were first created in the 1930s and '40s and were gracefully restored in 2011-2012 by a team of Khmer, Thai and French artists using soft, luminous colours rather than the garish ones found in many modern pagodas. Note the images of Japanese and French war planes interspersed among typical scenes from the Buddha's life -- the original Khmer painter was taught by a French art teacher who fought in World War II. Apart from the curious war scenes, the French teacher himself is depicted receiving teachings from the Buddha.

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Roulos Group
Last updated: 6th June, 2013

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